There’s a shiny, new set of wheels at the home where Estafani, Howie, Patty, and Robert live. The 2022 Toyota Sienna LE hybrid minivan has seating for two people who use wheelchairs and three more passengers. The new van replaces a 21-year-old Chevy Express. It is the first hybrid vehicle purchased by Communitas Supportive Care Society and so far the reviews have been very positive.
“There are so many features that we love about this vehicle,” says Edward Drewitt, who manages the home. “It’s great on gas and is very quiet. Staff have found that driving the hybrid on city roads is very smooth and it’s very comfortable for the people we serve.”
Vallen Mah, the director of operations for Communitas, says that most new vehicles that are being modified for wheelchair occupancy as of 2022 are hybrid. When he began the search to replace the aging van, he found that it was difficult to find any inventory because of high demand.
“The last two years have been especially challenging because of demand, a global shortage of microchips, the rising cost of materials, and production delays,” Vallen explains.
In addition to that, the higher demand for fully electric vehicles means that hybrid vehicles are now closer in cost to regular, gas consuming cars making the hybrid a viable option.
“The hope is that by getting twice the fuel efficiency for city driving compared to a regular gas vehicle, we are being more eco-friendly,” Vallen says.
Aside from the fuel efficiency, the new van has had a significant impact on the people who live in the home. The home has a very steep, sloped driveway so assisting people into the old, rear-lift van was a challenge.
“We had to assist people from the driveway and they were then exposed to the elements,” Edward says. “With this new minivan, people can enter the vehicle using the side ramp, inside the garage. It’s much more comfortable and there’s less risk of injury to staff or to the people we serve.”
Having less barriers means more freedom, something Vallen says many of us take for granted.
“Both the staff and the people we serve love the new vehicle so it is being used a lot,” he says. “Unlike the old van, which often sat unused in the driveway, the people we serve love to go out again.”
Howie and Robert both enjoy travelling in the new van. Howie likes to sit in the back as they make their daily drive to the local Tim Hortons for tea. Since the vehicle comes equipped with Blue tooth, Howie can listen to his favourite music.
“It’s great because I can listen to Little Richard while we’re driving,” he says.
It is possible that hybrid purchases could be a new trend for Communitas. Vallen is keeping an eye on how transportation evolves for the people who are served by the organization, saying that it is not yet clear how larger commercial passenger vehicles will fit into environmental targets in Canada.
In the meantime, the people living in the home that Edward manages are eager to be out and about, connecting with the community in a new way.
“The residents and the staff thank Vallen for choosing ours as Communitas’ first home to receive a hybrid van. Both the people we serve and our staff it,” he says. “Everyone should have a hybrid!”